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I just got off the phone with the CEO of a small company, who says he wants to hire me. I really like the sounds of the company and would like to take the job. I also suspect that they will be able to pay me a good wage. The position does not start until mid-November and they won't be able to make the offer concrete until mid-October.

I've been through two interviews plus this follow-up call. At the end of the call they still had not mentioned salary, so I asked them if they had an idea of the compensation package they would be offering. They immediately responded asking what I was getting at my current job. I dodged the question and told them in generic terms that I was getting a good deal at my current job, and essentially said I'd need a ballpark figure from them. The conversation got awkward when they repeated that they need to know what I'm getting at my current job.

I planned from the beginning not to divulge my current salary, but I wasn't prepared for their insistence. So many sites say not to disclose your current salary, but I feel like I messed up by being so strict about it. I stuck to my original plan and reiterated that I think they have a really exciting company, that I am definitely interested in joining them, that we have a lot of time to figure out the details, and that I would follow up by email.

Everything was roses up until now. What should I do to smooth over this somewhat awkward situation?

  • I was definitely prepared to be asked about my current salary, but didn't plan for them to be insistent or put-off by my refusal. I updated the question to be more clear about this. – user63146 Aug 6 '17 at 12:24
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    My go-to phrase for this situation is "My employer considers that information to be confidential. Please don't ask again". This has the dual benefits of A) Being demonstrably true (If your employer wanted your salary to be public information, it would be), and B) Meaning that they can't come back and ask again without appearing to be unethical. You can re-phrase the end depending on how forceful you want to be. – Kaz Aug 7 '17 at 16:36
  • My togo to phase is to instead offer to give them my last year pre tax income figure. Which generally shocks until I tell them I work for fun and yes, I have other income sources that are 30 times higher than what they think of paying me, so get real with a market wage offer because I am not getting lowballed by people with a net worth lower than my yearly income. – TomTom Jul 6 '18 at 3:20
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I think that you were right to not disclose your current salary. There are many reasons why you wouldn't want to - you may be underpaid at your current job (for any number of reasons), you may be willing to take a salary cut for the position because other benefits make it worth your while. In fact, in the United States, some states have passed or are working on passing laws that make it illegal for employers to ask about current or previous salary.

Instead of talking about what you are making now, you should be comfortable telling them what you are expecting to make. Do your research on the geographic area and take a look at what people with your education and experience are likely to make working in that area. You may also want to consider the industry that the company is in (sometimes, salary may fluctuate based on industry, even within a geographic area).

Also, discuss in ranges. Don't give a fixed point number, but give a good range that you would be comfortable accepting (keeping in mind that there may be negotiations around that number).

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    And keep in mind when you give a range, they will tend to be attracted to the lower figure, so make sure it is one you are willing to accept. – HLGEM Aug 4 '17 at 17:43
  • And since you are talking about relocating, make sure to price the cost of living in the new location before giving any figures. 100k in Topeka KS is a much better salary than 100K in San Francisco. – HLGEM Aug 4 '17 at 17:47
  • Surely when giving a range you'd accept, you a basically saying the lowest figure in your range is what you'll take. – Thomas Bowen Aug 7 '17 at 15:24
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    When talking salary, I always make clear that I consider non-cash "intangibles" such as benefits, vacation time and other such perks as well and align the lower end of my salary range with the expectation of better intangibles. For my last position, I asked for (and received) an additional week of vacation since I was already at the top of their salary range for the position. – DLS3141 Aug 8 '17 at 14:59
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You don't need to do anything. Basically at this point, you're in a stand-off. You didn't mess up. Actually you showed them that you're up to speed on your negotiation tactics.

That said, take your hands off this opportunity and look for something else. Put this one on the back-burner. Anything can happen between now and October and it'd be a real waste of your time to put any more effort into something so far away. If they call you again, great. Right now though, pursue other opportunities where the company is more straightforward about the offer being made.

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You seem to have done your part, from how you describe it, and have a right to expect that they know their role in this relationship.

Theoretically both employees and employers would want the company to prosper and have a future, each side must do their part.

As an interviewee your main duty is to yourself, as an interviewer the main duty is to the company (though the interviewer might also wish to advance their own career, improve their resume for future employment).

Deciding how much the company pays you is not your job, you don't even work there. If advertising and interviewing is what the company does then arguably they are doing their job, otherwise they need to have something on the table too.

If you have nothing on the table then it's a waste of time for both you and the company, but a paycheck for the interviewer. If the company doesn't have enough on the table then you are willing to subsidize the difference or are wasting your time.

When your resume is poor, new, or you're 'vacation working' (studying options, planning to leave for various reasons, learning something interesting regardless of the compensation) then you probably want to comply to the extent that you want to work there.

If you are in the better position and they are stalling when asked about how they will perform their half of the agreement it's a red flag that either they have financial shortcomings (be it cash available or willingness to part with it) or shirk their responsibilities.

Your current benefit is that you've gained some more experience interviewing (as has the interviewer and possibly the company, in their policy about fair dealings with people) and should choose to cut your loses (spend no more time and money) in a polite and professional manner - should they discover that everyone else feels the same they may come back to you with a reasonable written Offer Letter.

Messing with people who are on a fishing expedition, who simply like to advertise repeatedly until they obtain compliance, who can do their end, or are financially stressed should lead you to question the longevity of the position, or even the company should they find no one.

The awkwardness is their defense mechanism, a compliance test at your expense, or a one sided thinking. If they've nothing to offer at this time welcome them to contact you in the future.

You could have been hired sooner for equal or better pay if they (whomever) could see how you would be of value, no company with work and money throws both work and money away because they have too much (expansion issues aside) only places who mess around throw away what little they have and the work that would come with competent and loyal employees.

Decline politely to do more until they've demonstrated their interest. You do not ask how much money the owner gets or what the profit is during the interview and so it's not their business to ask how much you made previously, how much you paid for School, your shirt, your home.

Wages are their part, they are defensive because that's always been their shortcoming, that and doing their end (part) when called upon. I would have had an idea about wages before I invested my time but you should stick with your guns and show your commitment by doing only your own job (unless you get to set the wages and make the hiring decision for them too).

Deal with people politely and efficiency unless you're a hostage negotiator (too many interviews with too many people - a sheep fishing expedition).

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I would recommend a slightly different tactic, only given the fact that you're dealing with a very small company. I would guess that the CEO is himself green and unused to such negotiations and the norms for them, so don't assume malice in this case.

I would not disclose your salary.

Instead, I would just let the CEO know about industry norms and make it very easy and casual for him to answer your question without losing face.

For example:

Dear (name of CEO),

Thank you for your time on the phone today; I very much enjoyed our conversation and am excited about the possibility of taking on this new role! (Etc.)

I'd like to reiterate and clarify my question about salary: while I understand the offer won't be concrete until October, I'd like to know a range for the salary offer you intend to make, for my own planning purposes.

While I understand you'd like to know my current salary, the relevant factors for the offer are the skills I will bring to this job and the value that I can add to the company from this new position.

Sincerely,

user63146

This is fairly imperfectly written—possibly better suited for another phone call than an email. But you get the crux of the idea.

If he persists, you could simply say, "I'm looking for a salary between ______ and ______."

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